Outside of the USA, most people know her mainly as a poet and writer, but she expressed her creative genius through multiple media. She was a singer, a dancer, a film director and an important political activist to name but a few. So, making the first ever biographical film about the life of Maya Angelou was certainly not an easy task. The result is an in-depth portrayal of a woman who created art out from real life, and turned any adversities she encountered into wisdom and poetry.
And when I finally decided to speak again, I had a lot to say
‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do it with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style’ is one of Dr Angelou’s many popular quotes. Despite the fact that the film does not reach great heights in terms of style, it leaves little doubt that her life was otherwise. And Still I Rise inhabits classical biographical film structure; with archive footage and talking heads interviews. The story is told in a puzzle of voices, everyone who appears in the film is a witness to the person Dr. Angelou was, while they all simultaneously influenced her and her work in one way or another. Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Common, Alfre Woodard, Cicely Tyson, Quincy Jones, Hillary Clinton, John Singleton and Dr. Angelou’s own son, Guy Johnson, all weave into a narrative tied together by interviews with Dr. Angelou herself, telling her side of the story with her unforgettable charm and wit.
The film covers each step of her life in chronological order. Starting with a childhood filled with abuse and neglect. Raised in a racist and poor environment in the American South, she was raped at a young age, a traumatic event that left her mute for five years. She then turned into ‘an ear’: paying attention to everything, reading and absorbing words from everyone around her. ‘And when I finally decided to speak again, I had a lot to say’, she explains. What she had to say would eventually lead to her publishing her first and most famous autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in 1966.
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